Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of articles published about the “anti-feminist” remarks made by Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem in regards to women supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. The majority of what I’ve seen has been strong in opinion and lacking in context, so I’m going to try and shed some light on what has become a minor media frenzy.
Although by no means do I agree with Steinem’s remarks about younger women thinking, “Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,” or Albright’s quote about there being, “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” I feel that we at least owe it to these influential figures to more closely examine the sentiments behind their words before labeling them as out of touch, pseudo-feminists.
Clearly we are experiencing the effects of a generation gap. Millennial feminists, like myself, have grown up in a world where women have had more opportunities than ever before. As little girls we played with Barbies who were doctors, and business executives, and police officers. We watched our mothers pursue careers even after marriage. We saw people like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi and Ruth Bader Ginsburg hold powerful government positions.
Women like Steinem and Albright on the other hand were not as fortunate. When they were growing up, women could barely wear pants or play professional sports, much less run for political office. The feminist movement of their day was aimed at obtaining these basic rights that we often take for granted today. Because of the groundwork laid by these older feminists, millennials have been afforded the opportunity to expand the movement and focus on deeper level ideas and issues like queer theory, unfair maternity leave policies, and victim blaming.
Many are seeing this whole debacle as proof that Steinem and Albright don’t understand the goals of modern feminism, but I think that opinion is rather imperceptive. To assume these feminist icons have been living under a rock for the past ten years and are unaware of the changes to the movement is naive at best. I think the real issue here is the disconnect in values between second and third wave feminists.
Steinem and Albright are champions of creating change from the inside out. Their generation is known for fighting for things like Title IX and access to contraception, two battles that were fought on an institutional level. They’ve seen how in order to progress, sometimes we need to work with the establishment rather than against it. Because of those experiences, it’s probably perplexing to them why young women would choose a candidate like Sanders, whose campaign is built on the premise of being anti-establishment.
While young women of Steinem and Albright’s time were faced with the immediate issue of not being able to hold certain jobs, and thus were often forced to rely on marriage to support themselves, today’s young women have different impending problems to address. We’re being crushed under the weight of our student loans and watching the wage gap rapidly increase. Because of this, women of today see gender equality as an important issue to base their vote on but not the deciding issue.
For Steinem and Albright, women whose day to day lives were negatively impacted by their limited employment opportunities, this is the deciding issue. These women fought to ensure that a woman could have any job a man could, including commander-in-chief. Hillary Clinton may very well be the last chance in their lifetime for a woman to be elected as president.
Steinem and Albright were attempting to convey the urgency of electing a woman president to a generation of girls preoccupied by other issues, but unfortunately they went about this the wrong way. Rather than shaming young women voting for Sanders by claiming they were only doing so in an attempt to please men, Steinem should have highlighted the fact that many women may feel pressured into voting for him in order to prove they aren’t just choosing a candidate based on gender. Instead of using inflammatory rhetoric to try and claim Clinton deserves women’s votes based solely on gender, Albright should have highlighted what a triumph a female president would be for the feminist movement.
These women probably did not intend for their words to come off as anti-feminist, but ultimately outcomes speak louder than intentions. Do I think we should simply brush their remarks aside? No; But do I think these women—who have done so much to ensure their successors would grow up with more rights than they had—deserve to not be written off entirely by their fellow feminists? Yes.
Originally published on clearcontemporary.wordpress.com